St. Augustine offers Proba, a Roman woman writing to him asking his advice about praying, some insights into the Lord’s Prayer. The early commentators usually based their teaching on the words Jesus taught his disciples.
The wise St. Teresa of Avila says, “We’re people who don’t feel rich until we feel the money in our pocket.” So, we have to pray, “Your kingdom come… on earth.”
We’re earthy people with our feet on the ground, today’s ground. We find it hard to pray: “Give us whatever is good for us.” We find it hard to grasp that God’s kingdom is coming with blessings far beyond what we ask for.
We’re earthy people. We find the prayer of Jesus in the garden hard to imitate: “Not my will, but yours be done.”
“But you know us, my Lord, and you know that we have not given ourselves up to the will of your Father as completely as you did. For us, it is best to pray for specific things…or else we won’t accept what God chooses to give us (even if it is far better than what we asked for) because it’s not exactly what we asked for.”
So we pray that God’s kingdom come “on earth” –for my cousin’s friend who’s paralyzed, for Dennis, Joan, Camille, Mary, and Betty who lost their jobs, for the disturbed woman who visits our garden, for our President and our country, for Vincent in the hospital.” Our prayer is about “specific things” because we live our lives in them; we only know through what we see and feel and experience.
And so, “the good Jesus places these two petitions – Hallowed be thy name and Thy kingdom come next to each other, so that we can understand what we are asking for and why it is important to beg for it and to do all we can to please the one who is able to give it to us.”
The petitions lead us to the prayer of Jesus, “your will be done.”
A wise woman, St. Teresa. No wonder she’s a Doctor of the Church. (The Way of Perfection)
Last night I watched the second of the CNN series entitled Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery, on Sunday evenings during lent. This segment concentrated on John the Baptist. It was partially a dramatization of John’s life, his baptism of Jesus and his own death at the hands of Herod, Salome and her daughter. Periodically scriptural scholars were introduced to comment on John and Jesus. Also interspersed through the segment were reports on the search for the relics of John.
I’m afraid I didn’t like John too much as he was portrayed, fiercely striding through the desert shouting out warnings of a coming judgment. A scary, unstable figure, he seemed to me. Why would anyone want to follow him and let him dunk you in water? The scholarly experts on the program in their comments seemed to be talking about someone else, not the figure portrayed in the series. Were they ever introduced to the dramatic side of the production they were part of, I wonder?
John was the mentor of Jesus according to the dramatization, which makes me wonder how Jesus will be portrayed in the series’ later segments. Will Jesus be another John? I hope not.
John taught Jesus the Lord’s Prayer, the series’ narrator claimed, and Jesus taught it to his disciples in turn. One of the scholarly experts, a young woman who teaches at Notre Dame University, when asked later on her Facebook page what she thought about that, said she didn’t agree with the interpretation. Too bad she didn’t say that on the program itself. What are scholars for if not to keep things in perspective?
Speaking of scholarly perspective, here’s a quote about John the Baptist from Rudolf Schnackenberg, a good New Testament scholar. Obviously he doesn’t see John as the mentor of Jesus.
“When John speaks of the One who is to come, he is thinking of an executor of divine judgment, not so much of him through whom God’s mercy and love are made visible. He expects the kingdom of God to arrive in a storm of violence, in the immediate future, with the Messiah’s first appearance. This vision gives to his summons to conversion its urgent, compelling tone, increased further by the appearance of renunciation and flight from the world which he presents in his own person. From what we know of his preaching, he seems transfixed by the vision of the judgment and finds nothing to say about the salvation the Messiah will bring.” ( Rudolf Schnackenberg Christian Existence in the New Testament, Volume 1, University of Notre Dame 1968, p 39)
It’s raining today in Union City. Just the day for reading Isaiah:
Thus says the LORD:
Just as from the heavens
the rain and snow come down
And do not return there
till they have watered the earth,
making it fertile and fruitful,
Giving seed to the one who sows
and bread to the one who eats,
So shall my word be
that goes forth from my mouth;
It shall not return to me void,
but shall do my will,
achieving the end for which I sent it.
But isn’t it true, we don’t always like rain? Here it snarls traffic, stops you from going places maybe. Like the woman above, you may not have a car and you get soaked waiting for a bus. It gets in the way of your plans.
We think of God’s grace as pleasant and good, but we’re not always “Singin’ in the Rain”. Like the rain nourishing seed in the ground or filling reservoirs from thousands of distant streams, God’s grace isn’t quickly apparent. More often it’s slow and sequential. Without it, though, would we have water to drink and bread to eat?
So we say in the Our Father, “your will be done,” because God’s word goes forth. “It shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” But his will isn’t immediately seen.
We forget how rich in wisdom are the words of our prayers. Unfortunately, they become words we say unthinkingly. Listen to the commentary of St. Cyprian on one phrase of The Lord’s Prayer, the Our Father.
“Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. This is not that God should do what he wills, but so that we may be able to do what God wills. For who could resist God in such a way as to prevent him doing what he wills? But since the devil hinders us from obeying, by thought and by deed, God’s will in all things, we pray and ask that God’s will may be done in us.
For this to happen, we need God’s good will – that is, his help and protection, since no-one is strong in and of himself but is kept safe by the grace and mercy of God.
Moreover, the Lord, showing the weakness of the humanity which he bore, said Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me, and showing his disciples an example, that they should do not their own will but God’s, he went on to say nevertheless, let it not be my will, but yours.”
The great background theme playing through our Lenten days is the story of the Exodus. Like the children of Israel guided by Moses, we go forward on our desert journey guided by Jesus Christ.
His presence with us is greater than the presence of Moses among the Israelites, however. Like branches on the vine he gathers us to himself.
He is with us when we pray, weak and stumbling as our prayer may be. Remember his presence in prayer, St. Cyprian says in today’s reading. “Let the Son who lives in our hearts, be also on our lips.”
He’s speaking of the Lord’s Prayer, given to us by Jesus. “To ask the Father in words his Son has given us, to let him hear the prayer of Christ ringing in his ears, is to make our prayer one of friendship, a family prayer. Let the Father recognize the words of his Son.”
The Lord’s Prayer is not just a prayer to be said by rote; it’s a “pattern of prayer,” according to the saint. We learn how to pray by considering its words and making them our own. See: http://www.cptryon.org/prayer/teach.html
We recognize the place of Christ in liturgical prayer when we end them with the words, “Though Jesus Christ, your Son…” It’s important to recognize the presence of Jesus as we pray privately and rely on him.
When the disciples were asleep in the Garden of Gethsemani, Jesus prayed a stone’s throw away and his prayer not only strengthened him but strengthened them as well.